Saturday, May 1, 2004

Aviation Careers Outside The Cockpit

Very few people realize that there’s a broad spectrum of job opportunities residing on the ground

Not everyone who loves airplanes wants to be a pilot. Obviously, there’s much more to aviation than flying. The spectrum of service to the aircraft industry is as wide as a rainbow that is arcing the sky—there’s something for everybody. And here’s just a small sampling." />

Aviation Computing
Most who choose an aviation career in computing already have a fascination with airplanes and they want to connect that interest with their passion for computers. Since today’s high-tech aircraft have been described as computers with wings, the two worlds of aviation and computers are a perfect match.

“Technology drives our lives and the computing job market is excellent,” says Dr. Janet Hartman, head of the computer and software engineering department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, an aviation school noted for its work with embedded systems (special-purpose microcomputers hidden within other devices), in Daytona Beach, Fla. “This is particularly true in software engineering, the fastest growing area in computing. Most of our students have an attractive job secured prior to leaving school, and 100% of our graduates are placed within a year. Starting salaries for computer-science graduates average $48,000. Computer engineers typically start at about $53,000, with software engineers earning $63,000. Those with a master’s degree enter the field at higher salaries.”

Air Traffic Control (ATC)
Due to political issues and economic uncertainties, the FAA has hired almost no new controllers during recent months. This is because of the 1981 Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization strike for safer traffic control, which led to the president firing and replacing over 10,000 controllers. In 2006 (25 years after their hire date), all of these replacement controllers will become eligible for early retirement and those who were over 30 when they were hired in 1981 will have reached the mandatory retirement age of 56. This will open the doors to aspiring air traffic controllers, making this particular job market’s near-future prospects a positive one.

ATC requires either a two- or four-year degree. In addition to core college academics and ATC technical training. Studies necessary to do the job include aerospace law, human factors, air transportation, airline safety and aviation management.

Several years ago, to assure meeting the educational demands of this particular career, University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences and the FAA co-founded the Collegiate Training Initiative Program to professionally train controllers. Today, 13 colleges and universities participate in this program—the surest route into an ATC career. Many of these CTI schools require students to earn a pilot certificate prior to graduation, in addition to other ATC program requirements.

The investment of money and effort for this particular education field is substantial, but so is the reward, as explained by Gary Bartelson, director of the ATC program at the University of North Dakota: “CTI graduates earn an entry salary of $28,000 to $32,000, which grows to about $45,000 by their first year. As you start moving up the ladder, you’ll earn $55,000 at a level-six facility, $80,000 at level nine and then have the potential to climb higher into a six-figure income.”